There’s a chance you may have stumbled upon our website. If so, there’s a really good chance that you read our first blog. So, now you know. Maybe you struggle with your own mental health. Do you feel/find yourself thinking/saying “me too” when you read our blog? Maybe we fight for our happiness alongside each other without even being aware of it. That’s the point of all of this- to spread awareness, to sit with our vulnerability, to focus on our connectedness. To call upon what makes us human in order to find comfort in our shared experiences.
There may be a part of you that is unsure of how to interact with me given the knowledge that you have. Maybe a part of you is curious. Maybe a part of you is worried or afraid. Even though we’re in the mental health field, that doesn’t mean that we’re all comfortable with transparency, especially among co-workers. Whatever you’re thinking and feeling about me is okay. As you get to know me, your thoughts and feelings may or may not change. You may even want to engage in a dialogue about my experiences or about your own. I’m fine with whatever you’re comfortable with and I support you.
I want you to know that I hid for long enough. I said I was “fine” and that I was “just tired” over and over again to the point where I started to believe it. Isolation became my specialty along with counting down the minutes until I could rush home and lay in bed. I was driven by fear and uncertainty. Will I lose my job? Will people shy away from engaging with me? Will they understand? The more I engaged with my thoughts, the deeper and deeper I sank.
I now realize that my anguish was anxiety-driven and fueled by insecurities. At this point in my life, my need for transparency and connection outweighs my fear of being ostracized. I’ve come up with a few points that I want to remind you of:
Lastly, I urge you to pay attention. Notice what’s going on within you and around you. If you are struggling, it doesn’t mean your professional career is over. At a certain point, you can harness your experiences in a way that allows you to be a more thorough and empathetic clinician/supervisor/etc. You can use your experiences, thoughts and feelings to guide your practice in a way that inspires not only you but the people around you. You are not alone.
I feel you fighting. When you come out to eat your lunch, you talk about what happened in the news and what this idiot said and how ignorant and wrong it is and how much the world has gone to shit. You talk of fighters and proclaimers and justice-makers. I see you. But I also see pain under your anger. Pain that was never cared for or acknowledged, not in a good way. And although sometimes what you say feels like a blade, I know this is just how you’ve survived in the only way you know how: to fight.
I used to be like you.
I used to think, if I don’t know who to fight, then I don’t know who I am. But fighting takes a toll, and there are only so many battles you can take on before you actually become the thing you hate: hate. And I know you are so much more than that.
I hear you minimizing what you witness in the room. I hear your clients crying during your sessions, breaking their bones so they can re-set them again. And yet, when you’re in our meetings, I hear you talk about cognitive distortions and PCL scores and re-direction. But where is your humanity under your intellectualization? I know it’s there. I want to believe that you are present and kind with your clients, that you honor them and grieve with them. And, above all else, sit in the room unafraid, with their pain palpable in your chest and not try to “fix” it. I hope you know that it’s not weak to care. That it does not make you a bad therapist to weep or feel an ache; it makes you a better one.
I hope you know that empathy is the most powerful intervention you will ever use.
And all the other stuff, the theories, the science, the evidence-based practices- that’s merely a filtering system to ensure that your heart is strong enough to go through all those hoops and make it to the other side just as strong, if not stronger. That way, you will have earned the privilege of even being considered to bare witness to someone’s story. It’s your heart that’s your strongest tool.
I see you struggling. You try to brush it off, but I know it’s there. The way your eyes dart from side to side to keep from crying, the way you have to pause to take an intake of breath between sentences to ease the anxiety, the way you crack a joke so the topic is changed. I know you have a story. I do too. You got into this field either because you’re trying to correct what you didn’t get, to compensate for your lack of power by quantifying symptomology, to save the world with your own two hands and make it right, or, in some cases, simply because you are answering a call that you’ve felt since you were young, to serve those who need love above all else. Whatever your reason is, I see you trying to hold everything together when, inside, everything is falling apart and being held together by a thread.
But you can’t hold on alone. And now you don't have to anymore.
And to all of the people who work around you who don’t ask how you are, with the genuine intent of being present with you, I want to say shame on them, but what it really comes down to is have compassion for them. They can’t see beyond their own world. And that comes from somewhere, but it certainly does not mean you are invisible. I see you. And I’m always here for you. I won’t be scared. And, eventually, you won’t be scared too.
I taste your discomfort on my tongue when someone has the courage in a meeting to disclose their emotions and countertransference with their clients. I know that taste, because it’s the same iron flavor as cortisol. You’re scared. It’s too close to home, and you need to keep things professional, so you respond with you should do some self-care. But is that really what your colleague was asking for? Or was it support? Sit with me, sit with this with me. Tell me you’ve experienced this too and that I’m not alone, and that it’s normal.
Don’t disregard their vulnerability or your feelings with some bullshit band-aid answer that aims to dismiss.
Your soul is something to share. If you’ve forgotten that we ask people to share their deepest fears and darkest secrets with us everyday, let me remind you of something very important: if you aren’t willing to break the barrier between how you view your client and how you view your colleagues or yourself, then you aren’t ready to bare witness at all. We are no different from them. And maybe that’s what unsettles you: sameness.
I smell the waft of microwaved food you’ve heated up that’s sitting in front of you in your closed office. I recognize it because it smells like mine. It’s lunch time, and you only have 27 minutes because you went over with one client and are praying to God the next one doesn’t show up, so that you can go home to numb out on Netflix. The panicked rush that you devour your food with runs at the same frequency of your heart that’s pounding in your chest, doing its best to fight off the panic attack that’s threatening to take over your body. I know you’re hiding, and it’s okay to need space.
Isolation can seem like the lesser of two evils when you fear they will judge you outside your door.
But I can guarantee you that there is at least one person who gets it. Or who is at least willing to admit that they get it. I can now say that I will be one of those people for you, and I know you would be one of those people for me. Because one of the most powerful responses someone can have to our struggle is "me too".
So Dear Co-Workers,
I write this letter to you to beg you to remember to touch, hear, see, taste, and smell the energies around you and acknowledge who they are coming from. If you feel someone’s anger, tell them something kind. If you hear someone trying to speak robotically, point out how powerful it must have been to sit in the room with their client. If you see someone struggling, sit down on the same level with them, look them in the eyes, and ask gently How’re you really doing? If you taste someone’s discomfort in response to someone’s vulnerability, say aloud how much courage it took to admit something we all struggle to do. If you smell a lonely meal in the next room, send that person a text with a simple Wanna come get coffee with me? :) It will change their Entire. Day.
And finally, dear co-workers, please don’t be afraid of people being real. Which includes me, us, this blog. I know what we say here sounds risky, but I also know that you feel it’s brave. So, if that’s true, then that makes you brave too, for even getting to this sentence. For reading something that might go against what you were taught in school. Please be your raw, fallible, beautiful self. Your heartbreak, your traumas, your mental health battles, your mistakes, your undiluted emotions that you’ve packed deeply away- they ALL have a place. You have a place. Here. With us. All those things are what make you have a soul.
And I hope one day you’ll take the risk of sharing it. Because at the end of the day, you have nothing to prove, only to share. Lean into it.
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